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How the Legalization of Marijuana Has Affected Car Accidents Rates


Recent years have seen an increase in the number of states legalizing marijuana for recreational and medicinal use, as well as decriminalizing possession of pot under certain circumstances – such as when individuals possess a small amount for personal use. While these new laws have been hailed as victories in spite of America’s infamous War on Drugs, they have also introduced new concerns to public safety – including marijuana DUI.

In an effort to assess the impact of marijuana laws and rising marijuana use on U.S. roadways, researchers have been exploring whether those laws have affected car accident rates. As the findings released by two studies in June make clear, however, it’s not exactly clear.

  • According to one study from the Institute for Highway Safety, which analyzed insurance claims in states that recently legalized recreational marijuana (Washington, Oregon, Colorado) and states that did not, researchers found that the frequency of claims in marijuana-legal states were roughly 3% higher than anticipated without legalization. Researchers did note that the number is small, and that there are differences in the population, roadways, and traffic patterns of states in the study.
  • A second study released in June and published by the American Journal of Public Health found no increase in fatal car accidents in Washington or Colorado following marijuana legalization compared to other similar states.

Conflicting results from the studies have a lot to do with the fact that they analyzed different things. The first, for example, looked at the total number of claims for auto collisions. The second focused on fatal crashes. While it is certainly possible that marijuana legalization led to a slight increase in minor accidents – although a definitive correlation can’t be made – it is reassuring for public health experts to note that marijuana legalization has not seemed to increase fatal accidents.

As marijuana legalization gains support in states across the country, and gives our federal government ample reason to consider revision of its tough stance on cannabis, the fact remains that all states, lawmakers, and law enforcement officers are committed to keeping roads and highways safe, especially in light of a recent spike in U.S. roadway fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). As such, enforcement of laws that do involve marijuana – such as marijuana DUI – is likely to remain a top concern.

    If you have questions about a marijuana-related offense, including possession, sales, or marijuana DUI, L. Patrick Mulligan & Associates, LLC is available to help you learn more about your rights and what our Dayton criminal defense attorneys can do to help. Contact us for a free consultation.